Question: Does the Bible contain also the necessary elements for Trinitarianism?

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Question: Does the Bible contain also the necessary elements for Trinitarianism?

These elements were new ideas that arrived on the scene after the Bible was written

George A. Lindbeck notes,

In order to argue successfully for the unconditionally and permanence of the ancient Trinitarian Creeds, it is necessary to make a distinction between doctrines, on the one hand, and on the terminology and conceptuality in which they were formulated on the other... Some of the crucial concepts employed by these creeds, such as "substance", "person", and "in two natures" are post-biblical novelties. If these particular notions are essential, the doctrines of these creeds are clearly conditional, dependent on the late Hellenistic milieu.[1]

Note that this author says that many of “the crucial concepts” are “post-biblical novelties”: that is, they are new ideas that arrived on the scene after the Bible was written. If the crucial concepts weren’t around until later, then the doctrine wasn’t around until later either. As the author notes, these ideas arose out of the “Hellenistic milieu”, that is: Greek philosophy.

It is clearly impossible (if one accepts historical evidence as relevant at all) to escape the claim that the later formulations of dogma cannot be reached by a process of deductive logic from the original propositions and must contain an element of novelty...The emergence of the full trinitarian doctrine was not possible without significant modification of previously accepted ideas.[2]

Said David Noel Freedman:

So in many was the Bible remains true to its “primitive” past [by accepting the strongly anthropomorphic understanding of God/Yahweh] and is less compatible with philosophical notions of an abstract being, or ultimate reality or ground of being. Just as there is an important and unbridgeable distance between Yahweh and the gods of Canaan, or those of Mesopotamia or Egypt or Greece or Rome, so there is at least an equal or greater distance from an Aristotelian unmoved mover, or even a Platonic Idea or Ideal. The biblical God is always and uncompromisingly personal: he is above all a person, neither more nor less.[3]

New ideas and concepts were required.

The formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the 4th and 5th centuries is not to be found in the New Testament.[4]

A Catholic encyclopedia notes that Trinitarianism doesn’t really appear until the last 25 years of the 4th century:

Trinitarian discussion, Roman Catholic as well as others, presents a somewhat unsteady silhouette. Two things have happened. There is the recognition on the part of exegetes and Biblical theologians, including a constantly growing number of Roman Catholics, that one should not speak of Trinitarianism in the New Testament without serious qualification. There is also the closely parallel recognition on the part of historians of dogma and systematic theologians that when one does speak of an unqualified Trinitarianism, one has moved from the period of Christian origins to, say, the last quadrant of the 4th century.[5]

"There is no formal doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament writers"

A Jesuit [Catholic] scholar says this:

There is no formal doctrine of the Trinity in the New Testament writers, if this means an explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons. But the three are there, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and a triadic ground plan is there, and triadic formulas are there...The Biblical witness to God, as we have seen, did not contain any formal or formulated doctrine of the Trinity, any explicit teaching that in one God there are three co-equal divine persons.[6]

The idea of “three” is present: but not as ‘three co-equal divine persons’ that are one being. An idea about the nature of God (or the Godhead) is present, but it is different from that which is taught as Trinitarianism.

Two authors even assert that the Apostle Paul, the four gospels, and Acts have no Trinitarian understanding:

...there is no trinitarian doctrine in the Synoptics or Acts...nowhere do we find any trinitarian doctrine [in the New Testament] of three distinct subjects of divine life and activity in the same God head...These passages [i.e. the Pauline epistles] give no doctrine of the Trinity, but they show that Paul linked together Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They give no trinitarian formula...but they offer material for the later development of trinitarian doctrine...[Paul] has no formal Trinitarian doctrine and no clear-cut realization of a Trinitarian problem…in John there is no trinitarian formula.[7]

And:

This double series of texts manifests Paul's lack of clarity in his conception of the relation of the Spirit to the Son. Paul shares with the Old Testament a more fluid notion of personality than the later theological refinements of nature, substance, and person. His lack of clarity should be respected for what it is and be regarded only as the starting point of the later development.[8]

So, Paul doesn’t even ‘realize’ that there is a ‘Trinitarian problem’. Could this be because for Paul there was no such problem, because the doctrine was unknown to him? It was not an issue in his era, because it was not taught by Jesus or the Apostles, and no one felt the need to reconcile divine revelation with Greek philosophy.

One author asserts that the Trinity is correct, but readily admits that:

The God whom we experience as triune is, in fact, triune. But we cannot read back into the New Testament, much less the Old Testament, the more sophisticated trinitarian theology and doctrine which slowly and often unevenly developed over the course of some fifteen centuries.[9]

Notes

  1. George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984), 92.
  2. Maurice Wiles, The Making of Christian Doctrine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 4, 144.
  3. David Noel Freedman, “When God Repents,” in Divine Commitment and Human Obligation: Selected Writings of David Noel Freedman, Volume One: History and Religion (William B. Eerdmans, 1997), 414.
  4. P Achtemeier, editor, Harper's Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985), 1099.
  5. RL Richard, "Trinity, Holy", in New Catholic Encyclopedia, 15 vols. (New York:McGraw-Hill, 1967), 14:295.
  6. Edmund J. Fortman, The Triune God: A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), 32, 35.
  7. Edmund J. Fortman, The Triune God: A Historical Study of the Doctrine of the Trinity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), 14,16, 22-23, 29.
  8. J Fitzmyer, Pauline Theology: A Brief Sketch (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey): Prentice-Hall, 1967), 42.
  9. Richard P. McBrian, Catholicism (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1980), 347.